IEPs, Individual Education Plans, make it possible for special needs students to benefit from the same educational experiences as their peers. They do this in part by levelling the playing field, setting up conditions that must be met so the child can attend classes and learn in a way that suits his particular set of strengths. IEPs aren’t just about getting services for special needs students or lowering barriers to accessibility, though this is often the thing most emphasized about them.
A good IEP should also level the playing field when it comes to assessment, too. There are two aspects of the IEP that address student evaluation: accommodations made to evaluation procedures, and modified learning objectives.
Accommodations for Evaluating Special Needs Students
Where the special needs student can complete some or all of the standard curriculum with accommodations, it should also be possible to evaluate the student’s educational progress against the same learning objectives applied to all students. Accommodations that are required in order to do so should clearly be indicated on the IEP. Some examples might include oral presentations and exams instead of written ones, more time to complete assignments and exams, breaks built into exam schedules, use of a reader or scribe during exams, or taking exams in a private testing area to minimize distraction.
Modified Learning Objectives
Special needs students who are not able to follow certain parts of the standard school program for their grade level will be offered a modified curriculum. While modified to reflect the student’s abilities and current level of achievement, a curriculum for alternate participation in the classroom should follow the prescribed standards as closely as possible. Assessment for the special needs student following an alternate curriculum should similarly parallel standard assessment as much as possible. Educational goals should be expressed in concrete terms, and for each goal there should be a set time frame and benchmark for assessment.
Referring regularly to the IEP helps parents to ensure that teachers are providing learning experiences that will move the special needs student towards the accomplishment of educational objectives. For example, if one of the objectives is for the student to improve his handwriting, there should be evidence of some type of penmanship practice. It will be easier to evaluate the work done if the student receives regular homework assignments. If not, parents can ask completed work be sent home once a week. Addressing concerns promptly is important, as it will be difficult to assess completion of a goal that has been ignored for the majority of the school term.
Evaluation Against IEP Objectives
Many special needs students will receive an updated IEP in lieu of a report card. If the student is granted a grade on a standard report card instead, it is still important for the IEP to be updated to reflect progress. Parents should ask teachers to explain how they arrived at the student’s marks, to be sure he is evaluated according to measures approved in the IEP.
Special needs students are generally quite capable of working through the standard curriculum at their own pace, given adequate support and the necessary accommodations. A good IEP is the key to academic success for a student with special needs, and it can also be an excellent reference for parents who are assessing the appropriateness of work assigned by the teacher. In order to get the best possible IEP, and to see the special needs student is evaluated against its learning objectives, parents need to be informed and involved.
“New Individual Education Plan – 2009-2010 – Cycles 2 & 3.” Lester B. Pearson School Board
Sandra Thompson, Martha Thurlow, and Patti Whetstone, “Recommendations for addressing standards and assessments on state and district IEP Forms.” National Center on Educational Outcomes